Monday, September 30, 2013

Orange is The New Black – A Review

Created by Jenji Kohan

Recently I viewed the entire Netflix series titled Orange is The New Black.  This production is based on the book of the same name by Piper Kerman.  Kerman, like the main character in this series was sentenced to a one-year prison term for transporting money for a West African drug cartel.  She was sentenced ten years after this offence took place.

Kerman’s story is about her life during the thirteen months she spent behind bars.  I have not read her book, and according to Kerman, the Netflix series is different in many ways from her story.

The Netflix series portrays a highly educated middle class woman, Piper, who is placed in a prison where the women are mostly working-class.  In other words, Piper’s educational background gives her little insight into the rules of the prison, as well as the rules of the prisoners.  Because of her ignorance of these rules, Piper experiences one crisis after another.

When Piper begins her prison sentence she is engaged to be married.  Her Fiancé has basically the same views as Piper when she’s sentenced.  In one of the first visits she has with her Fiancé, Piper gives her initial impressions of her cellmates.  This Fiancé is a writer and publishes an article about his visits with Piper.  The problem is that Piper’s initial views of her cellmates were insulting stereotypes.  As Piper begins to know her cellmates, she sees their genuine humanity.  This is just one more crisis she needs to deal with.

There are two scenes that made a distinct impression on me.  In one, Piper was dancing suggestively with a former lover.  A prison guard had befriended her largely because of her educational background.  This prison guard became enraged when he saw Piper dancing because this suggestive dancing with a woman destroyed his preconceived notion of who she was. 

As a result, this prison guard sent Piper to solitary confinement.  Solitary is the worst form of punishment a prisoner can endure.  The recent prison hunger strike in California is largely a protest against the use of solitary confinement. 

After experiencing a day of solitary, Piper has the opportunity to confront the abusive prison guard.  She berates him, arguing that he is a deeply disturbed person and this is the precise reason why the prison authorities hired him in the first place.

After this outburst, Piper strikes herself in the head thinking of how stupid she has been.  Berating a prison guard might only mean that she would be forced to spend more time in solitary.

In another scene, a prisoner had been released, and shortly after she was arrested again.  Her re-arrest angered her best friend in the prison.  The re-arrested prisoner explained what happened.  She said that the people she stayed with had no money and she needed to sleep on the floor.  Then, her parole officer demanded that she apply for three jobs every day.  She knew she would not be hired for any of these jobs.  In this environment, the re-arrested prisoner felt that life behind bars was better than the life she lived outside the prison.

A basic question to be asked about this film is why is it so compelling.  Prison is a place we would like to avoid, so why did so many people spend time viewing the prison environment?

A similar question might be asked about the television series Roots that was based on the book of the same name by Alex Haley.  Why did so many people view this television series about slavery?  In fact, the series Roots was one of the most popular of all time.

My opinion is that the answer to both these questions has a similar answer.  The television series Orange is the New Black and Roots aren’t just about prisons and slavery.  These are stories about people who are yearning and struggling to be free.

The bottom line is that we all live in an environment where we have very little control.  Our employers tell us what to do for all those hours we toil for them.  Politicians merely support the interests of their corporate masters.  The owners of corporations control the prices we pay, as well as the quality of the commodities we purchase.  Therefore, it is only natural that working people find the stories of individuals who struggle to be free compelling.

These are facts that the media moguls clearly do not understand.  They argue that they’re only interested in promoting popular films.  However, the television series Roots clearly was popular, yet there have been few films that have had a similar theme.  We can say the same about several other television series that had working class characters, yet little effort has been made to rework the themes of these films.

We can talk about the series The Honeymooners that told the story of a bus driver, and his friend, a plumber, that was set in the working-class housing where they lived.

We can talk about the series Good Times about a family that lived in a housing project in Chicago.

We can talk about the series Roseanne about a working class family in Illinois, were the woman played a strong role in the family.

We can talk about the series Sanford and Son about the owner of a junkyard in the neighborhood of Watts in Los Angeles, California.

These were all popular stories about working-class families.  Yet, while the media moguls argue that they are only interested in popular programming, they aren’t interested in producing the kinds of programs that have themes of these films mentioned in this review.

From time to time we do see a film that gives a realistic picture of the lives of working people.  This is why I spent the time to watch the series Orange is The New Black because we would all like to live in freedom.            

Monday, September 9, 2013

What Happened on September 11, 2001?

When we think back to the horrendous loss of over 3,000 lives on Sept. 11, 2001, there are a few stories we never contemplate.  One of those stories is of how the pro-capitalist media handled that story.  If we recall, this was the primary story in the news media for months after this event. 

Today, we can look back and say clearly that the 9-11-01 bombings were not even the top story of that day.  To illustrate this point we merely need to recite a few undisputable facts.

In its Human Development Report 2000, the United Nations informed us that every day 30,000 children die of preventable diseases.  This means that on September 11, as well as September 12 and 13, about 30,000 children needlessly perished each day.  We might also consider that the parents of all these children mourned the deaths of their loved ones on each of these days.

The reader of this information might argue that these children have died, and continue to die because it is inevitable.  This argument might continue with the claim that poverty has always existed, and no one has been able to do anything about it. 

Poverty and the war against Vietnam

This argument runs into some serious problems.  One big problem is that the United States government spent hundreds of billions of dollars advancing their war against the people of Vietnam.  Robert McNamara was one of the architects of the war against Vietnam.  Years after the war, McNamara argued that the war was a “mistake.”

Another problem is that to the best of my knowledge, no a single pro-capitalist media outlet argued that the money and resources used in the war against Vietnam might have been better used in caring for the children of the world.  In other words, the editors of the news media live in a constant state of denial, clinging to the thought that nothing significant can be done to eradicate poverty in the world.

The nation of Cuba has given us a different perspective to these issues.  Cuba had an anti-capitalist revolution and today Cuba has more teachers and doctors per-capita, than any other nation in the world.  Infant mortality in Cuba is significantly lower than in the inner cities of the United States.  We might consider that Cuba’s population is 100 percent Latino and 40 percent Black.  Before the revolution, Cuban infant mortality was on a par with the rest of the underdeveloped world.

Late Victorian Holocausts

The news media, as well as the so-called educational system has a long history of ignoring criminal acts by governments that have led to tremendous loss of life.  Mike Davis wrote a book titled: Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World.  In his book, Davis argued that between the years 1876-1902 about 60 million people starved to death.  The highest numbers of people starved to death in the nations of China, India, and Brazil.  Most people don’t know these facts because the so-called prominent historians argued that these were natural disasters that could not have been prevented.

This argument also has problems because many of these nations exported large amounts of food while famine affected millions.  The Chinese erected their Great Canal over one-thousand miles to transport food from one part of China to another.  The British had no use of this canal because they were interested in the export of food for profit, and not in feeding the Chinese people.  In other words, these famines were the result of British government policy and not natural disasters. 

Criminal bombing campaigns

The news media has also spent a considerable amount of time and effort demonizing Osama Bin Laden.  Clearly Bin Laden was responsible for a horrendous crime that no rational person would support.  However, there is another side to this story as well.

E. Bartlett Kerr wrote a chilling history of the United States government bombing campaign against Japan titled: Flames Over Tokyo: The U.S. Army Air Forces’ Incendiary Campaign Against Japan 1944-1945.  Kerr reported that the U.S. Air Force invented phosphorous firebombs to be used against the civilian Japanese population.  These bombs were used because the civilian homes of the Japanese were made of wood and they would burn easily.

Kerr also reported that thousands of these bombs rained down on Japan destroying large sections of 67 cities.  These cities had populations equivalent to the largest cities in the United States.  In Tokyo, a city equivalent in population to New York, 50.8 percent of the city was destroyed.  After six months of this bombing campaign, President Truman ordered the Air Force to drop atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Kerr argued that all of these bombings were necessary to end the war.  In fact, at the time of the bombings Japan was effectively defeated and surrounded by the U.S. Navy.  This bombing campaign took place because the U.S. government didn’t want the Soviet Union to enter the war.  The U.S. wanted as much control over Asia as it could have, and the Soviet Union might have interfered with these goals.

We might also consider that the U.S. bombing campaigns in both the Korean and Vietnamese wars surpassed the tonnage of bombs dropped on Japan.  While Osama Bin Laden was clearly a criminal, what do we say about the horrendous bombings carried out by the United States government?

We might consider all of this information when we consider the plans of the government to go to war against the people of Syria.  While the government continues to spend obscene amounts of money on murderous wars, 30,000 children continue to die every day.